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Reflections from Our Director
  • Reflections from Our Director

    In 2022 the Arnold Arboretum marked 150 years as an institution at Harvard University and in the City of Boston. With this digital annual report on our activities for fiscal year 2022 (July 1, 2021–June 30, 2022), we reflect on the many things we accomplished together in this milestone year, and celebrate the critical role you play in all we do as an urban green space and museum of trees teaching the world about plants. We also call attention to the two key goals that will guide our mission for centuries to come: to continually renew our founding public promise of environmental justice and to do all that we can to combat climate change and extinction.

    As I look back at the past year in the life of the Arnold Arboretum, our 150th anniversary represents a key inflection point between the aims and responsibilities of our mission and the needs and realities of our times. We are only 140 years into a 1,000-year renewable lease with the City of Boston—we are still, in terms of our charter, only just beginning our journey as a scientific collection of the world’s temperate woody plants. As we look ahead, we are working across multiple fronts to ensure that the Arboretum continues to contribute meaningfully to science, the educational mission of Harvard University, and the health of our community for another 150 years and beyond. Of particular importance, are our growing efforts to understand and combat the effects of climate change through research in the living collections and our magnificent laboratories at Weld Hill.

    Trees our horticulturists are planting today should be reaching their glorious maturity as noble Arboretum specimens some 100-150 years from today. We are laser-focused on what we need to do to ensure they reach their potential both as individual organisms and as specimens for scientific study. Toward this goal we are working to secure greater success and sustainability in our horticultural efforts, from implementing new systems and technology for adaptive collections management to installing irrigation lines across our landscape to protect our plants during severe drought. Sustaining the health of our collections, which lie at the heart of all we do, is our most important responsibility to ensure the long-term viability of both the Arnold Arboretum and its mission. We accomplished a great deal in this regard in 2021-22, and our ambitions for a more sustainable institution will continue to inspire action and innovation in years to come.

    It was also a year in which we needed to strike a critical balance between returning to pre-pandemic rules of engagement while prioritizing safety for both our staff and the public we serve. If a crisis can indeed be an opportunity as well, the public safety concerns of COVID-19 made it possible for us to expand our educational outreach in the digital realm in ways we may have never imagined previously, bringing so many additional participants to our conversations on trees and society. While expanding our audiences online, the loosening of restrictions over the past year have allowed us to resume the in-person experiences that have always characterized our outreach and legacy. Through it all, millions of visitors found refuge in the Arboretum during an extremely uncertain and difficult time.

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about the past year at the Arnold Arboretum is the extent to which the institution has marshaled this anniversary year to renew our commitment as a free and open garden and international center for the study of trees and biodiversity. In so many ways, our values in this regard remain grounded by the work and legacy of our designer Frederick Law Olmsted, whose bicentennial we also celebrated in 2022. Olmsted’s belief that democracy was both served and supported in our cities through shared green spaces remains just as vital and relevant today as it was when the Arboretum was founded 150 years ago. As Boston continues to prioritize the difficult yet essential work necessary to make the city a more just and equitable community for all, we are doubling down on our founding public promise to make our landscape more inviting and welcoming to all.

    As we look ahead, many of our aspirations focus on improving the experience of people who visit here, learn here, and find inspiration and community here. Of the many lessons learned in the past year, perhaps the most gratifying and humbling can be found in the words of our visitors, many of whom shared stories and memories that illustrate just how important the Arnold Arboretum, its landscape, and its treasured plants have been to the lives of generations of people in Boston and beyond. This appreciation goes both ways, as we remain immensely grateful to our community, and to the many people who invest in our work as volunteers, members, and donors. The Arnold Arboretum could not operate without your help, and we thank you for all you do on behalf of this great institution. I look forward with joy and anticipation to all we will achieve in the future together.


    William (Ned) Friedman
    Director of the Arnold Arboretum
    Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
    Harvard University